What Happens in Lawsuits for Personal Injury?
Personal injury lawsuits are civil proceedings in which an injured person, or their representative, files a lawsuit for damages against the person or entity responsible for causing the injury. Lawsuits for personal injury can be filed for any action or inaction that causes injury to another person. These types of claims range from wrongful death to minor slip and fall cases. If the lawsuit is successful, the defendant may be ordered to pay economic and non-economic damages to the plaintiff as compensation. How do you know where to start?
If you or your loved one has been injured by another person or entity, one of your first acts should be to seek the advice of an attorney experienced in Indiana personal injury compensation laws. Some personal injury attorneys—like those at Keffer Hirschauer LLP—even provide a free evaluation of your claim. Additionally, the plaintiff’s attorney in many personal injury lawsuits takes the case on a contingency fee agreement, meaning you are not responsible for attorney’s fees unless the attorney wins your case.
The personal injury lawsuit process usually has several stages. If you have a personal injury claim, it is helpful to understand what happens in a personal injury lawsuit.
The Stages of Lawsuits for Personal Injury
While every case is unique and may take a different path, most personal injury cases have the same basic stages. To understand what happens in a personal injury case, you need to know what steps are likely and what to expect.
Often, the parties to a personal injury case will reach a settlement without going to trial. However, if the parties do not resolve the case through settlement, Indiana lawsuits for personal injury usually have the following stages:
- You file a complaint
- Both sides investigate the allegations in the complaint (discovery stage)
- Filing of pretrial motions followed by a bench or jury trial
- The court will enter judgment
- A limited opportunity to appeal legal errors follows the trial
It is always best to consult with an experienced Indiana personal injury attorney to evaluate your case, explore your options, and best explain the Indiana personal injury compensation laws and how they are likely to apply to your case.
Filing the Complaint in Personal Injury Lawsuits
In lawsuits for personal injury and other civil matters, the process begins with filing a complaint. The complaint must be filed with the court in the proper jurisdiction. Your attorney will determine the proper jurisdiction for filing your suit based on the facts in your case. However, the preferred jurisdiction usually depends on where the parties to the suit reside and where the injury occurred.
The person who has suffered an injury, or their representative, is the plaintiff in the complaint. The person or entity who is alleged to have caused or be responsible for the injury is the defendant.
The complaint should state the names of both the plaintiff and the defendant, each party’s place of residence, where the event that caused the injury occurred, and why the court has jurisdiction over the matter. It is also necessary to state that the plaintiff has suffered injury or damage because of the defendant’s action or inaction. Finally, the complaint should conclude with a prayer for relief, whereby the plaintiff asks the court to find the defendant at fault and to award damages to the plaintiff.
Once the complaint is filed with the proper court, a copy of the complaint must be served upon (delivered in a particular way to) the defendant. The defendant will also be notified of a deadline for filing a response to your complaint. If the defendant fails to file an answer to the complaint, the court may enter judgment by default against the defendant. However, the defendant usually files an answer within the required time.
If the defendant answers your complaint and denies your allegations, the case proceeds to the discovery stage. How long your personal injury case will take depends on numerous factors.
The Discovery Stage in Lawsuits for Personal Injury
Lawsuits for personal injury often involve a lengthy discovery stage. During this stage of litigation, each party may conduct discovery of the other party’s claims. Some of the most commonly used discovery tools are written interrogatories and requests for the production of documents.
With written interrogatories, one party will send a list of specific questions to be answered under oath. The questions asked attempt to prove the existence of facts supporting a party’s claim or establish a defense against the claim. For example, a plaintiff may ask the defendant whether the latter has an insurance policy that would cover the plaintiff’s damages. The parties may also issue a written request for the other party to produce documents within the latter’s control. For example, the plaintiff may ask the defendant to produce a copy of their insurance policy.
Another standard discovery tool used in lawsuits for personal injury is the deposition, an out-of-court sworn statement, of a party or witness. Either party may take the deposition of the other and, with court approval, may take the deposition of potential witnesses. Depositions are usually conducted face-to-face, although they can instead be conducted virtually in some cases. In a deposition, a certified court reporter swears in the person to be questioned, and then the person being deposed must answer under oath questions asked by one or both parties’ attorneys. The court reporter records verbatim both the questions asked and the responses and later creates a transcript of the proceeding.
Information gained through depositions helps each party understand the strengths and weaknesses of their case and may help encourage settlement negotiations. If the case is not settled, the deposition may be used at trial if the witness changes their testimony. At times, a deposition may be videotaped for use should the witness be unable to appear at trial.
The discovery stage can be relatively short, or it may last months or even years, such as for complex cases. Settlement negotiations may occur during the discovery phase, although your attorney may recommend waiting until sufficient evidence is available to strengthen your negotiating hand. However, if no settlement is reached after the discovery stage is complete, the court will set the matter for trial.
The Trial Stage in Lawsuits for Personal Injury
It may take several months to reach the trial stage in a personal injury lawsuit. At trial, the plaintiff has the option of having the case decided by the judge or by a jury. Most plaintiffs prefer a jury trial, but an experienced personal injury attorney should make a recommendation on which type of factfinder best fits with your defense strategy. A jury trial usually consists of the following steps:
- The jury is chosen by questioning the jury pool, and the court swears in the jurors selected
- Each party’s attorney presents an opening statement to the jury, explaining what happened and why the jury should find for their client
- The plaintiff presents all of their evidence, including witness testimony and physical evidence
- The defendant presents their defense, including witnesses and any physical evidence
- Each party makes a closing argument, reiterating what the evidence established and why the jury should find for their client
- The judge charges the jury with instructions for deliberating the case
- The jury deliberates and notifies the judge when it has reached a verdict
- The court announces the verdict to the parties and enters final judgment
After the court announces the verdict, either party may request a new trial or appeal the verdict. Motions for a new trial are not commonly granted. However, verdicts are frequently appealed.
When a plaintiff wins a personal injury case, the judge or jury is often asked to determine the amount of damages or compensation to be paid from the defendant—or the defendant’s insurer—to the plaintiff. Damages in lawsuits for personal injury may include one or more of the following:
- Economic damages: Compensation for losses resulting from the conduct that caused the injury, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage
- Non-economic damages: Compensation for harm not tied to tangible financial losses, such as pain and suffering
- Punitive damages: Compensation intended to punish the defendant whose conduct involved fraud, gross negligence, or malicious intent, and such damages are capped in Indiana at the greater of $50,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages
Having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side is especially important for putting together the evidence needed to maximize your compensation.
The Appeals Stage in Lawsuits for Personal Injury
Under Rules of Appellate Procedure 9, either party may begin the appeals process by filing a notice of appeal with the appellate clerk’s office within 30 days of the court’s final judgment. This notifies the intermediate appellate court, the Court of Appeals of Indiana, that the party intends to appeal the trial court judgment. The notice should also request preparation of the trial court record by the trial court reporter. Thereafter, the appealing party (appellant) files a brief detailing the trial court’s errors, and the other party (appellee) files a responsive brief.
The appellate court has 15 judges, but the clerk randomly assigns each appellate case to a panel of three judges. The court does not conduct a new trial, and no further evidence may be presented. Instead, the court will review the record established in the trial court and the briefs filed on appeal. The trial court record includes all pleadings filed by both parties and a transcript of the entire trial proceeding. In rare cases, the appellate court may also ask the attorneys to appear and give oral arguments to support their positions.
The Court of Appeals may overturn the trial court’s verdict, affirm the trial court’s verdict, or remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings. Generally, an appellate court will only overturn a trial court ruling for one of the following reasons:
- The verdict is not supported by the evidence presented at trial
- The trial court made an error of law
- The verdict results in a miscarriage of justice
If either party is unsatisfied with the appellate court’s ruling, they may file a petition to transfer to have the case heard by the Indiana Supreme Court. However, such a review is rare. The supreme court generally considers hearing a case only for the following reasons:
- The appellate court’s decision conflicts with other Indiana appellate court decisions
- The appellate court’s decision directly conflicts with an Indiana Supreme Court decision
- The appellate court’s decision is contrary to a United States federal court’s decision
- The case presents a previously undecided question of law
- The case revolves around a legal principle that may be outdated and needs to be reconsidered
Contact an Experienced Indianapolis Personal Injury Lawyer
If you or a family member have been injured in an accident in Indiana, contact the aggressive and experienced attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP. They have decades of combined experience in lawsuits for personal injury and offer a free evaluation of your case. Schedule a consultation with a Keffer Hirschauer Indianapolis personal injury lawyer today by completing this online contact form or calling (317) 455-4043.